The Solo DL is one of the latest Data Acquisition (DAQ) systems from AiM. What is a DAQ? Simply put, DAQ systems record lap times and vehicle data for analysis that can be used to improve driver performance. Calling this a lap timer would be missing the plot and is likely to get you scratched off of AiM’s Christmas card list.
The market offers many outstanding entry-to-mid-level DAQ products from companies such as AiM, Race Technology, RLC, and Traqmate. After an exhaustive amount of research, I selected the AiM Solo DL to be used for my personal development and for the development of the drivers on my endurance racing team.
The AiM Solo comes in two flavors. The regular AiM Solo ($399) uses 10 Hz GPS and internal accelerometers to return accurate vehicle speed and location data on track maps already stored in memory. If a track map is not already in memory, it can easily be added from track manager software, or a custom track map can be created, even if the “track” is a circuit around your neighborhood. The Solo features predictive lap timing and has a screen that can be configured to show only the information the driver wants. The AiM Solo DL ($699) adds the ability to record ECU information from the OBD-II port.
I backed-into my choice of the Solo DL by first choosing AiM and specifically, their Race Studio 2 software. AiM is a leader in this market and their products are widely used by amateurs and professionals alike. A significant selling point was that Ford Racing uses AiM systems on its Boss 302R and 302S race cars. It is one of those MLX (digital dash) systems that I really wanted.
The Boss 302 does not come with oil pressure or temperature gauges and I do not like the Laguna Seca gauge pod that sits on top of the dash. Since I don’t need those gauges on the street, I liked the idea of having an MXL dash to use for the track, but which I could remove for daily driving. Unfortunately, the MXL is out of my price range at the moment. So, I chose the new Solo DL, which has all of the data acquisition features of the MXL, but which does not accept analog inputs (the oil pressure and temps that I wanted). In truth, those extra gauges don’t have anything to do with the primary function of the DAQ. It is simply a way for me to get those things displayed in an acceptable way. I can’t help but point-out that the Corvette Z06 ECU logs oil pressure and temp. If that were the case with the Mustang, I wouldn’t need an expensive MXL dash, I could just display those on the Solo. [shaking fist] “Ford!”
The Solo DL does everything I need to use it as a tool for driver feedback. If I ever upgrade to an MXL dash system, I will not have to relearn new software and I will still be able to review and compare older data with new.
I called Jeff at Optimum Motorsports and he spent a lot of time on the phone with me answering my questions about the Solo DL. He also had geeky information about the Boss 302R ECU that I found interesting. Jeff knows his stuff. I was sold, so he sent one out right away.
First Track Test
I had a chance to test the Solo DL just a couple of days later at the 2012 Texas Audi Group State Meet track event at Harris Hill Road. I didn’t have time to mount the Solo (see below) for the track event, so I just plugged it into the OBD-II port, turned it on, and stuck it into the Mustang’s cup holder. I wouldn’t be able to see my lap times, or see the predictive lap timing function in action, but I was more interested in just collecting data for armchair analysis after the event.
Even with my hillbilly installation, the Solo DL worked beautifully – knowing when the car was on track and then quietly gathering a metric ass-ton of data that would eventually be used to condemn my driving. Since it was being powered through the OBD-II port, I had no battery concerns and just left it on all day. I could have checked my lap times at the track, but I was instructing and otherwise enjoying myself, so I couldn’t be bothered. I love that the Solo can be such a zero-overhead device. With very minimal setup, it can be turned-on and chucked into the glove box. At the end of the day, it will still return Apollo 11 levels of telemetry.
At the Bonneville Salt Flats
Since that initial track event, the Solo has been with me to several track day events, a 24-hour road race, and on the Bonneville Salt Flats. In every situation, the Solo DL performed beautifully.
When I got home, I downloaded the data into AiM’s Race Studio 2 Analysis software.
As someone who makes their living as a QA Engineer in the software industry, I feel qualified to say that AiM’s Race Studio software could use an interface update. There is no doubt that this is flexible and powerful software, but it’s ugly and a little crashy.
Also, there is a very steep curve to learning the analysis software and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. It seems clear to me that I will need some training or at least some good tutorials to get the most out of this software. Still, while just fumbling around I managed to find interesting information that I can put to good use. I can see that I’m faster without traction control on. That’s not surprising, but I can point to the data that proves it. I could also see that I wasn’t braking hard enough. That also wasn’t surprising to me – I was on stock brake pads and I was being gingerly on purpose. Finally, I could see that on my fastest lap of the day, I was actually down a whopping 5 mph on the fastest part of the track, compared to another lap (which I must have botched at some point).
Mounting the Solo
Note: This applies only to an S197 Ford Mustang. I can’t verify any other application or platform.
The Solo comes with a metal mounting plate which can be screwed into the dash, attached to a suction-cup mount, or otherwise mounted to the car and then the Solo attaches to the plate with magnets built into the back of the unit. Securing a mounting plate in a race car is no problem, but for my daily driver and track-day car (Boss 302 Mustang), I wanted a temporary mounting solution. A windshield suction-cup mount is an obvious first choice, but I don’t like those because they block my view and I’m not a fan of the lick-stick attachment process. Also, I have had a suction-cup mount fail during hot laps, which left my camera swinging from its power cord, getting smashed to bits against the bare interior of a race car. So, I wanted something temporary, that attached more securely than a suction-cup, and was easily visible/accessible without blocking my view through the windshield.
After a bit of daydreaming and research, I gambled $20 on an iGRIP powerPort Mount (1599). The new Mustangs have a power outlet mounted at the very top of the center console and the iGRIP is designed to plug into the power port and hold a cellphone or MP3 player at the end of a flexible arm.
The iGRIP Mount
I cut-off the mounting tabs on the iGRIP, which left a flat mounting surface. The Solo mounting plate is on the left.
I stuck industrial strength Velcro on both mounting surfaces.
The finished setup.
The iGRIP Mount has worked perfectly, even in very rough conditions. The Solo is very easy to read and does not appear to move or vibrate while driving. Still, I will probably reinforce the base to help with stability. I don’t want to torque the power port too much.
The Solo DL is an excellent device at a class-leading price point. The unit itself is sturdy and well-built with a healthy feature list, all backed by an industry leader. In my mind, this is the current champion in the crowded mid-level DAQ market and the AiM Solo DL comes with my highest recommendation.
Appendix A – Data logged from Boss 302 ECU:
Pedal position sensor
Front left wheel speed
Front right wheel speed
Rear Left wheel speed
Rear right wheel speed
Traction control alarm
Instantaneous fuel consumption (1)
Instantaneous fuel consumption (2)
Average fuel level
Traction Control Brake Event in progress
Engine Control Engine Event in progress
Malfunction Indicator Light
Fail safe cooling mode
Stability Control Telltale NO/YES
Stability Control Telltale Text Message (code)
Electronic Stability Control event in progress
Brake Warning Telltale ON/OFF
Vehicle Yaw Rate
Vehicle lateral acceleration
Steering wheel angle
Tyre revolutions for mile
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Have you hooked up cameras (either SmartyCam HD or GoPros) and synced to the data? If so, how does this setup work?
Rich, this is a fairly simple process that is controlled by data overlay software. DashWare and RaceRender are two of the more established packages. Most of these types of packages have free demo software that you can test. If you don’t have your own video or data, they usually have samples you can use. DashWare downloads were temporarily unavailable when I tried this, so I downloaded the demo copy of RaceRender 3. This is an overview of the process:
1. Launch the data overlay software.
2. Select an overlay template.
3. Select a video and data file.
4. Sync the data to the video. This is done with the data and the video in a side-by-side window. The easiest way to do this is to advance the video until the car begins moving and then find that point in the data (by using GPS location or the speed data). Click ‘OK.’
5. Preview and tweak the video, as needed.
6. Produce the finished video file by clicking ‘Create Video.’
All of these steps were as easy and straightforward as they sound and I produced a test video in less than an hour. If you need more information, check the software websites for user guides and support forums. Good luck!